My neighbor is a lawn revisionist.
He must plan all day long, painstakingly dissecting a blueprint layout of his yard, adding flowers and small trees and calculating the best sunlight at certain times of day. He must work on it all night long, when it’s not as hot out, rearranging shrubbery and tossing day-old geraniums into the trash like rejects from the bakery. I say this because I go home after work, and the yard looks one way. I go out at night, I come home in the dark, and he’s always out there with the hose, lurking in the shadow of the hedge, but not in a menacing way. In the morning, I leave for work, and the lawn has been reinvented.
I think perhaps “lawn” is not the right word for what this is. The man’s home is squooshed between a three story apartment building and a dilapidated church. I think that he is somehow affiliated with the church, because I’ve seen him locking and unlocking the front and side doors, going in and out. I’ve watched him dump garbage cans full of pieces of wood and dusty window coverings into the dumpster in the alley. I’m not sure what else he has time for between maintaining the brokedown house of God and revising his yard, and I would like to know how one goes about making a living from cleaning up after a nonexistent congregation, because there is yet another abandoned church right across the street from the one my neighbor has laid claim to, and another just a block away, and I would be happy to quit my job and care for either, if that’s all I would have to do. I would live on a street of dead centers of worship, pour rat poison along the baseboards once every week, and live happily ever after.
Anyway…what? Oh yes, well, my neighbor lives in this little cottage-style house between the big deceased church and the apartment building. It looks squatty and small in comparison, but it really is very shady and cute, and it has this path that runs along the side of it, over which he’s built an arbor of sorts for vines and roses (although he sometimes clears the arbor of all natural growth and starts over again, just the bare wood showing). The front rectangle of lawn is what he spends the most of his concentration on. He has outfitted the perimeter with a tiny fence. The fence holds flower boxes, which sometimes contain transplanted strawberries, and other times African violets from plastic grocery store containers, and neither for very long. Most of the patch of lawn is shadowed by the overhang of the little house, which provides extra shade as it’s covered with growth. There are a few small trees lining each side of the lawn, and all do their part to add more secrecy to the center.
Last summer, the neighbor got rid of the hippie-style wicker chair that consisted of a base, a bowl-shaped center that settled down into it, and a pink pad that went into the curved center. By “got rid of,” I mean he turned the seat parts into planters and threw out the pink padding. He purchased a small black iron loveseat type of thing, with a shade over it, and a wrought-iron fire pit contraption to go in front of it. The back of the seat faces the street, the front faces the fire pit, and beyond that is the giant picture window, the shade for which is always, always open, so that I sometimes see the neighbor and a friend playing a silent game of chess behind the glass on my way here or there.
A few days ago, the seat had been accented with a long, red satin cushion that looked like it was straight from Suleiman’s garden. Not only was the fire pit blazing, but there were about seventeen mini tiki torches sparkling with tiny flames all over the place. I couldn’t help but stop for a second and take it all in, it was very pretty. The fences were spilling over with blood red flowers, flat pillows with sparkling gold threads lay on the ground next to the fire pit, glittery gold curtains line the sides of the loveseat and the edges of the picture window. The tiny trees held mini strands of yellow lights, and the concrete path was overflowing with yellow and red flowers, bursting color like split arteries. The weird thing was that nobody was sitting in the yard, the house was dark, and I got the distinct feeling that my neighbor was not even home.
And the next day, it was all gone. Flowers, lights, cushions, curtains. The ground along the path, the dirt in the fence boxes, it all looked like it had been dumped out and poured back in. The fire pit basin was overturned on its stand, holding a giant Jif peanut butter can with a sick-looking sapling in it. A rat darted out from behind the fence and across the street.
Meanwhile, my other neighbor is training her toddler in persistence. I lay out in the sun, pretending to read, watching them in their yard. She drags the plastic baby pool out of the shed and sits back on the swing, watching while the baby wobbles to the rusty spigot on the side of the house, struggles to turn it on, fills his plastic cup with water, which always overtakes him and splatters all over him. With his cup half full, as the force of the water usually blasts off from the bottom and empties the cup, he strains to turn off the spigot. He wobbles across the yard to his baby pool, pours in the few drops that have survived the journey, and returns, slowly, to the faucet. Every now and then, she takes pity on him and puts the hose on a slow trickle and sticks it over the edge of the pool. But most of the time she just watches and smokes and smiles at passersby.
The booze closet.
I haven’t had a drink in 27 days, and from what I can tell, it doesn’t do much but allow you to see all of the fine details on everything flying out of the unhinged archives in your mind. I suppose that is the point.
Tomorrow I will have completed my self-imposed rehabilitation period. I almost didn’t notice it, the absence of beer. Sometimes on my evening jogs I will see a band of hipsters on their way to some lawn party, carrying black plastic bags from the liquor store, and thirsty and hot, I will think I’m going to die if I don’t get a freezing cold shot of Patron as soon as is humanly possible. But I think that’s just because I drink that so cold, and it’s more like water than alcohol on its way down, which is all I want on mile 2.
Unfortunately, I am not sleeping any better, and the 4pm panic that hits daily still carries the same intensity, and goes from “I am not doing enough” to OH MY GOD I AM NOT DOING ANYTHING. It’s the feeling of inertia that flattens me to the wall and sends me into a daily tailspin. I have the constant thought of I should be more than this, now, which does nothing but answer the question of “Who are you?” with Not enough. That’s enough self-inflicted pressure to drive anyone up the wall.
For instance: I feel extremely guilty for sitting here, on a Saturday afternoon, in the shade on this patio, analyzing the breeze and the human traffic and receding into my head, while there are people to be called and haircuts to be gotten and research to be done and emails to be written. In between each sentence I read or write is a repetition of You lazy fucking asshole! Get a job!
There is one change between my sober self and my actively drinking self, which is the amount of caffeine I take in daily. This, you could say, would be the reason for my insomnia and rapid-fire panicked thoughts. I basically swapped alcohol for extra caffeine. I drink it in the morning to avoid a day-killing headache, and again in the afternoon I will allow myself a quad espresso so that I can function properly, maybe even positively. I drink them all the time, but I don’t understand why quad espressos are legal. They should not be.
My mother told me that when I feel my thoughts dragging toward the negative, muddling my brain, I should try a little trick she read about in some women’s magazine. You’re supposed to snap yourself out of it by “thinking faster,” that is, speeding up the tempo of your thoughts. I suppose the point is to get them over with in a hurry, or blast them out of your head just by multiplying them until they cancel each other out, but I think I must be adept at this already, too good at it to trick my thoughts into being positive. If I sped them up any more, I’d be splattering everyone with gray matter and skull shards every five seconds, which is about the rate at which I remind myself that I need to be doing more, better, faster, sooner.
By the way
It’s not that I hate carefree or positive people, I just think they’re stupid. If I ask what you’re doing, and you respond that you’re “chillin’ and hustlin’,” or something to that effect, I am just going to think that you’re dumb. I wasn’t asking because I wanted to be entertained. I was asking because I genuinely wanted to know. This means either that you did not want me to know, or you do not want to know yourself. If I ask you what’s up, and you respond “You know, I’m just workin it, bangin it out,” you are catching your ankle on that trip wire in my brain that makes me think, “Ugh” and not want to talk to you anymore.
Maybe I’m just bored with endless niceties and meaningless conversation. Or maybe most people are just douchebags filled with cherry-scented antiseptic ointment.
At least it’s cherry. I don’t think I could deal with vanilla.